How the £45m Nigerian email scammer was caught

We may receive compensation from the providers of the services and products featured on this website. Read our Advertising Disclosure.

It’s one of the most commonly mocked scams that you’ll find in your emails. It goes something like this: a victim will receive an email from a Nigerian prince or a bank official or the wife of a wealthy deposed leader informing them that they have a huge fortune that can only be accessed if a smaller, but still significant, sum of money is wired to them from abroad. The story varies from scam to scam, but always involves the sharing of a vast sum of money if the person is willing to send over some sort of fee.

Once the victim has wired their money over, the Nigerian prince stops responding and disappears entirely, leaving them without their money and no way to access the supposed fortune. Of course, the fortune never existed and the prince is nothing of the sort. This is the 419 scam – named after the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud.

The challenges of catching the criminals

It’s almost impossible to trace as the scammer uses fake email accounts and wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. It’s also true that they could actually be based anywhere in the world. When you also consider that the scheme effectively encourages the victim to participate in potentially illegal behaviour and also that it may be embarrassing for the victim to admit that they have fallen for the scam, it makes it very difficult to track down the criminals involved.

However, it was recently announced that a Nigerian man known only as ‘Mike’ had been arrested on charges of hacking, conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretences. He was the head of a network of individuals who were responsible for a huge number of 419 scams, supposedly totaling more than £45 million.

How the scam was uncovered

‘Mike’ was caught after he was brought to the attention of authorities by Interpol who provided a report to local law enforcement. Fortinet Fortiguard Labs also provided analysis and intelligence which allow experts at Interpol and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of Nigeria to identify and locate a suspect.

After he was arrested in Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria, an examination of devices implicated him in a range of criminal activities.

Unexpected techniques

There has been a crackdown on this sort of fraud by Nigerian authorities in recent months as the country looks to distance itself from its reputation as a safe haven for fraudsters and criminals.

In one rather ironic case, a group scam operators were uncovered by cyber security specialists after the scammers accidentally infected themselves with their own malware. It is thought that the scam was making a group of 30 to 40 Nigerians as much as $5 million a year after targeting both businesses and individuals.

The malware software sends a screenshot of the computer to a public web server every five minutes. However, when one of the scammers accidentally infected themselves, screenshots were being sent of their own operations, exposing not only their techniques, but also other members of the group and their victims.

Interpol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are now investigating the scammers.


Article provided by Mike James, writing for